Languages That Are Mutually-Intelligible.

I just know I once read an interesting entry in an almanac once. (You all do remember almanacs. That’s what we used before we had the internet;).) Anyways, they said speakers of Swedish could almost understand other Scandinavian languages, I forget exactly which.

Also, another interesting story. Polish was my mother’s first language. And she told me, one time when she was a young girl, she saw a movie in Russian. And she said she was surprised, she could almost understand much of it. This is ironic, because Polish and Russian are both Slavic. But they are slightly different branches of that tree, I believe.

I know English has no such thing, i.e., a language that is mutually-intelligible. If you see a page in French or Spanish, or even Latin sometimes, you can pick out a word or
two. But those languages aren’t even in the same PIE family as English.

Ironic too, is the fact that French and Spanish are considered derived from Latin. But if you speak one, you certainly can’t understand the other.

What other languages are mutually-intelligible, even though they are considered separate languages? I brought up Scandinavian, English and Romance. But feel free to offer other examples, of entirely non-PIE languages even.

Thank you in advance to all who reply.

:slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile:

(I don’t understand how any of this is “ironic,” but whatever)

A lot of adjacent dialects in the Romance dialect continuum that covers Portuguese, Castilian, Catalan, Italian, Provençal, French, etc. are mutually intelligible.

The spoken dialects of Urdu and Hindi are mutually intelligible.

These things really depend on the individual speaker, but, as with many things, you could start with the Wikipedia list:

And then you have the few dozen different Chinese languages, which are completely incomprehensible in the spoken form, but almost identical written.

Even with Japanese and Chinese there is a considerable degree of comprehension in the written form. Not perfect by any means, but still pretty good especially since they’re not even in the same language family.

And as we always say in these threads (they pop up all the time), it depends on whether the two people are trying to communicate with each other or if one person is eavesdropping on a conversation in the other language.

The OP might be surprised how much mutual comprehension there is between French and Spanish if the two people are trying to communicate. If they can write things down, even more so. Accents can often disguise cognates.

The closest to English is Frisian.

You can, in fact, pick out a LOT of words in Frisian (and Dutch) that are the same as English words. You have to just think of them phoenetically, rather than focusing on the spelling.

NativLang’s most recent youtube video is about this, except with more focus on asymmetric intelligibility.

What you need to understand is that there is no precise dividing line between two varieties being two dialects of a single language and being two closely related languages. (The word “variety” is often used for two things that could be either two dialects or two languages.) Look, suppose in medieval times there was a single civilization speaking a single language. Then half of that civilization moved to another continent. Now, languages are always changing. Before the one half of the civilization moved to another continent, everyone in the civilization spoke a single dialect of the language. The language changed over time, but it changed pretty much the same over all the civilization. After the one half moved, the two halves don’t (we’ll say) have any contact anymore. Each of the two halves continue to have changes in their speech. However, the changes are now different in the two halves. Slowly the speech of the two halves change so much that they speak two different dialects. Slowly the two dialects change so much that they are two different languages. So where is the dividing line between them being two dialects and being two languages? The answer is that there is no precise dividing line. The difference between two distinct dialects and two distinct languages is arbitrary. To some extent it’s a matter of politics. All those cases given in DPRK’s post are cases of two distinct but closely related languages which are in fact so close that they are almost two dialects of a single language. I know that this will bother a lot of people here that there are no precise definitions for two well known terms like “dialect” and “language”, but that’s the way it is.

Would you say that’s what’s happening to English, internationally? Certainly, American-, British-, Australian-, and New Zealand-English show significant variations already. When do they become sister-languages instead of dialects?

Yeah, but it’s only been about two hundred and fifty years since they split up. Furthermore, these days there is much more communication and travel between two groups of speakers of a single language than there was in the Middle Ages, even if those two groups are on different continents. Splitting up into two dialects and into two languages happens more slowly than it used to.

Language and dialect aren’t opposites. Everything is a dialect, always. What we think of as a “language” is by some important definitions just a dialect with special status.

In some sense, the answer is circular. One way to define it is to say that two dialects are different languages when they are no longer mutually intelligible. But that would make the distinction between mutually intelligible and unintelligible dialects somewhat redundant. A lot of linguists prefer to just avoid the question, and only speak of dialects instead of languages.

I’m persuaded by the Wikipedia page on Scots that it is a separate language (keeping in mind of course that Scots also speak Standard Scottish English which is a dialect of English.) The clincher for me was that English and Scots started to diverge before English became Modern English, and you can’t really be a dialect of a language you were never part of to begin with.

I think the essential part of the answer is “A whole lot more difference would be required, to even start considering that question”.

Two things going on here. 1) The Slavic languages have preserved a surprising amount of mutual intelligibility. 2) Often, the mutual intelligibility is asymmetrical. Poles are probably exposed to quite a bit of Russian whereas Russians might not be exposed to that much Polish.

PIE is proto-Indo-European, which is the root language. You are thinking of IE: Indo-European, which is the language family.

Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian are the obvious ones where things are mutually more or less understandable. I don’t know how easy or hard Faroese and Icelandic are for the other three. Finland is geographically in the same area, but Finnish is very different; however, due to previous politics a lot of Finns speak Swedish too, either for convenience or because they were forced to long ago or because their parents are Swedish.

The old saying is that “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy”. Though, of course, that still doesn’t work for the Anglosphere, all of which are (generally) considered to be speaking the same language, despite armies and navies.

Indeed, I would almost say that this has changed direction, and these various versions of English are growing more alike. Given the amount of communication via the internet and easy international phone calls, and the worldwide market for TV, films, & music, it seems like speakers of English are becoming more monolithic.

Even among people who don’t natively speak English, there seems to be a convergence in the language & culture. i was surprised lately when speaking in English to a young Scandinavian to have him recognize a comment I made – it referred to a Monty Python sketch from decades before he was even born (‘Nudge, nudge’) – yet he had no trouble understanding it.

Finnish is a Uralic language, not an Indo-European language. Somewhat similar to Estonian, and distantly related to Hungarian. About 5% of the population of Finland are Swedish speaking Finns.

Serbo-Croatian developed as effectively a single language blob, with the main differentiation being between speakers of different religions and political entities, whihc determined the written language [Serbian Orthodox Christians, usuing Cyrillic; Croat Roman Catholics using Latin script; Muslim Serbs + Croats following their locality]. Dialectical differences ran across the region, reflecting other types of settlement patterns and connections. Effectively if you were at one end of the Serbo-Croat blob on the map you’d understand someone at the other end, but the accent and local dialect and slang might make it hard.

Since the dissolution of Yugolsavia, both Croatiaa and Serbia [and the other former Yugo bits] have all expended considerable effort to create defined specific versions of their languages. This is to reinforce the big political split but also invariably makes non-standard dialects anomalous and at greater threat through centralised and education. But the same thing happened in Italy and that seems to have survived as a dialectic jig-saw.

Analogous with Hindi/Urdu and India/Pakistan.